Indirect facilitation: Evidence and predictions from a riparian community

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Indirect facilitation occurs when the indirect positive effect of one species on another, via the suppression of a shared competitor, is stronger than the direct competitive effect. Although theory predicts that these interactions may be common in assemblages of three or more competitors, experimental studies of this process are rare. Here, I report a study of a northern California riparian community, where I tested the hypothesis that the sedge Carex nudata had direct competitive effects on other plant species, as well as indirect facilitative effects, by suppressing a second competitor, the common monkey-flower Mimulus guttatus. Results of a field experiment, in which I manipulated the presence of Carex and M. guttatus in a factorial design, uncovered three qualitatively different interactions between Carex and three target species. I found evidence of indirect facilitation for the liverwort Conocephalum conicum, such that Carex 'facilitated' Conocephalum in the presence of M. guttatus, while Carex competed with Conocephalum in the absence of M. guttatus. Plant distribution patterns supported the widespread occurrence of this interaction. Carex also had an indirect positive effect on the scarlet monkey-flower M. cardinalis, though the magnitude of this effect was similar to direct Carex competition. Lastly, Carex had no influence on the moss Brachythecium frigidum. The mechanisms underlying the plant interactions in this study are discussed and incorporated into a general hypothesis that indirect facilitation among competitors is most important in assemblages of species that vary in competitive mechanism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1762-1769
Number of pages8
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 1999
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Carex
  • Competition and facilitation
  • Facilitation in plant communities
  • Indirect effects
  • Mimulus
  • Plant competition
  • Riparian plant communities
  • Species diversity


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